When you order a plate of snails in kumquat sauce and enjoy it with all of your fingers, you realise that the more messy it is, the more delicious and enjoyable the dish. And don’t forget to lick the sauce left on your fingers. That’s the way to eat snails like a local.
Most of the dishes at Oc Vi Sai Gon require the use of your hands. Firstly, you take a snail, use a stick to pry it out of the shell, dip it into the sauce, and try.
Located in Ha Noi’s Old Quarter, the restaurant is not large enough to accommodate its many customers, so it’s always crowded. It’s also a popular place among foreign visitors.
Pham Vi, owner of the restaurant, is from HCM City. So she brings the full experience of Sai Gon-style snail dishes to Ha Noi.
“People in Ha Noi and HCM City have different ways to enjoy snails as a kind of street food,” she said.
“While Hanoians often eat boiled snails, served still hot with nuoc cham (a sauce made from fish sauce, sugar, lemon grass and ginger), people in HCM City have many ways to cook the snails, including grilled and boiled with many spices and sauces.”
“Excellent fresh seafood is sent by air from HCM City every day. Freshness is the most important part of making a good dish.”
People may be surprised with the extensive menu, because of the many varieties of snails, shells and crabs. They are all really good, in different ways.
For oysters, those grilled with cheese offer a different experience to those grilled with spring onion and peanuts.
Some highlights are the scallops grilled with spring onion, snails stir-fried in salt and chilli, razor clams fried with morning glory and garlic, clams in a Thai style broth with lemongrass, snails in kumquat sauce and blood cockles fried with garlic.
The snails served with garlic butter sauce are very tasty and have a charming scent. After finishing the snails, diners are recommended to mop up the sauce with bread.
However I don’t follow the advice, wanting to save space for my favourite dish – com rang hai san (stir-fried rice with seafood).
The rice is fried at a high temperature to make it a little bit crispy, but not too hard to consume. The yellow rice is the foundation for different colours of beans, carrots, sweetcorn, crabs, shrimps and squids.
The ingredients are cut into small pieces making the dish look eye-catchingly colourful.
A good option for a group is the snail hotpot, at VND250,000 (US$12). With so many kinds of snails of different sizes and shapes, it definitely has the wow-factor. The broth is cooked in the Mekong Delta style, with various vegetables, sour and hot.
Valerio S. from Italy remarked that Oc Vi has some of the best dishes he has ever tasted. The small restaurant helps him enjoy the food and real life in Ha Noi.
“I had dinner three times here because the food is so great,” he said. “The snails and the specialties of the restaurant are really tasty. The staff are great as they are always professional and pay attention to all your needs. It’s a cozy place.”
“Not all the staff speak English, but the menu is in French and English and has pictures for all dishes,” he said. “I really enjoy my time there, and so does my stomach.”
Denis Lamalice from Switzerland and his friends visited this restaurant when they were really in the mood for some seafood and this place happened to be a three-minute walk from their hotel. So the decision was easy.
“The food was delicious and very fresh. All ingredients were cooked to perfection and we greedily mopped up the sauce with bread. I recommend this place, just be prepared to order a few more dishes than you might have expected to.”
|Oc Vi Sai Gon
Address: 21 Gia Ngu St, Hoan Kiem Dist, Ha Noi
Description: Snail dishes cooked in Sai Gon style, friendly staff, food should be consumed by hands to enjoy full culinary experience
Restaurant type: beer-hall style
Typical price per dish: VND40,000 – 80,000